In Ryan’s Words:
They say things are bigger in Texas. Turns out, some things are and some things aren’t. The span of I-10 from the Sabine River westward to El Paso definitely is the longest single state stretch of that particular interstate highway. It seems to go on forever. But the maximum distance you can get from a road in all of Texas, which we have precisely calculated to be 6.6 miles, is nowhere near the largest of any state. Despite the relatively ho hum maximum distance from a road in Texas, in order to mount a family expedition to get there, I anticipate we may still get ourselves a Texas-sized challenge.
It wasn’t easy to calculate the Texas Remote Spot. Just ask Rebecca. The frown on her face is telling when she’s asked about it. Years ago, our first attempt at calculating the correct Texas Remote Spot placed the location along the south Texas coast inside Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. We delighted. Our long-time friend, Boyd Blihovde, happened to be the refuge manager of Laguna Atascosa NWR. We notified Boyd of our calculation and prepared to make our documentary journey to the Texas Remote Spot while getting to see our friend.
But not so fast….While conversing with Boyd on the phone many months later, he relayed to us that the beaches of Texas are legally driven upon by automobiles, even within state and national conservation lands. We could not believe that vehicles were allowed to drive on the sensitive turtle and bird nesting beaches of Laguna Atascosa and greater Padre Island conservation lands. This forced us to recalculate the Texas Remote Spot. It would take many more hours through the coming months and years to finally pin down the correct Texas Remote Spot.
Texas is a prime example of how time consuming it can be to precisely calculate the maximum distance from a road in a state. We make every attempt to acquire the most up to date roads data per state. However, as has been the case for every state thus far, there is no single agency or entity that keeps tabs on all existing roads per given state. Because of this, we frequently calculate a remote spot only to discover un-mapped roads nearby that cause us to have to recalculate the remote location. Each time we make a calculation and find a “new” as of yet un-mapped road within our remote area polygon, we must incorporate the road into the database and recalculate taking into account newly mapped roads. It gives us fits. Typically, a given state requires dozens of such calculation/recalculation combos. Texas required nearly a hundred such iterations.
After years of calculation attempts for Texas, in the Fall 2018, we finally zero in on the likely Texas Remote Spot–fittingly within the iconic Big Bend region. As soon as we confirm the spot, we reach out to the Big Bend National Park and request a scientific research permit to make our documentary expedition into the remotest location of Texas. Long-time Big Bend National Park (BBNP) biologist, Raymond Skiles, works closely with us during the several week-long permit process. Incidentally, we discover that he is very near his retirement.
The Texas “Big Bend” region exists north of a ‘big bend’ in the Rio Grande, south of US HWY 90, and west of the Pecos River.
The Rio Grande (known as the Rio Bravo del Norte by Mexicans) cups the region on three sides to the west, south, and east. This rugged patch of wild, raw Earth resembles Mars. Extinct volcanoes tower among ancient limestone plateaus. Earth’s crust was penetrated many times here by magma upwellings, while simultaneously being crunched, lifted, stretched, and eroded. The Rio Grande and its tributaries slice deep canyons. The place is a classroom for almost every term that can be found in a geology textbook. The rio isn’t particularly voluminous. It usually is skinny enough to wade across. But the importance to ecology and culture of a river running through the desert cannot be overstated.
As we pack for our latest Project Remote adventure, we encounter another hurdle just days from departure. While perusing a satellite image to plan our expedition route, I squint at the computer screen. I notice a discernible track inside our roadless area polygon that contains the remote spot. “Is that a damn road right there next to the remote spot?” I said. “How did we miss that!!!” It wasn’t exactly huge and glaring, but desert tracks are clearly visible from satellite imagery. Both of us agree it is a road.
The apparent road could monkey wrench all our latest planning and permitting. It could knock our progress in Texas back by another year.
We decide to just give Raymond a call to inquire about the road. Maybe, just maybe, the “road” is an old left over horse and wagon track or abandoned 4×4 auto track.
Raymond is very knowledgeable and is a pleasure to speak with. When I ask about the road, he informs me that it is an old park service road that barely gets used any more. It gets use every few years, and would be extremely challenging for almost any vehicle to use. Discouraged, I say to Raymond, “but it still does get some use, and it must qualify as a road in our stringent roads definition.” Which means we will have to recalculate, re-plan, and rain check the Texas expedition.
Moments later, still on the phone, I get an idea. I say to Raymond, “What if y’all close that road and never ever use it again? It could restore itself back to native desert habitat. That way, the Big Bend National Park ensures the preservation of the remotest location from a road in all of Texas. The Texas Remote Spot fittingly would and should reside forever inside the most iconic, remote conservation land in Texas.”
Raymond agrees wholeheartedly. In fact, he explains to me that he had been working for years on a wilderness plan for the park which included the closure and restoration of several park roads. But he also explains that closure of a park road will have to be run up the chain of command and ultimately be decided by the new BBNP superintendent, Bob Krumenaker. Raymond recommends that I call or write to Bob and explain the situation.
As soon as Raymond and I hang up the phone, I immediately construct Bob the email. He gets back to me timely and apparently is very receptive to the idea of closing the small stretch of desert track in question that penetrates the otherwise most roadless area in Texas. I am filled with delight that our inquiry into this matter likely will lead to the protection of the Texas Remote Spot.
Beyond the immediate pleasure of working with the BBNP to ensure conservation of the largest roadless area in Texas, there is a little more to this story for me. All my life, I have traveled to the Texas Big Bend. While I lived in NE Texas during my childhood, my father took my brother and me there first when I was just seven. We hiked, camped, and rummaged the immense desert for a week. We backpacked to the top of Emory Peak, camped overnight on the mountain under the stars, and woke up with frost on our sleeping bags.
As an adult I have gone there almost annually in search of solitude and wilderness. It happens to be the closest wild place in the American West that a wilderness seeker from the Southeast can get to. It is also one of the most rewarding natural places to experience in our great Nation. As a life-long conservationist working to save something–anything–natural, wild, and free, it brings my life and conservation career great meaning to have anything at all to do with Big Bend area conservation. Ultimately, Big Bend remoteness conservation will rest in the hands of caring park officials and citizens of the United States.
Texas Expedition Journal in Progress….